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December 31 trial date for Iraqi shoe-thrower

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush and called him a “dog” will stand trial on December 31, a court official said on Monday.

A handout video grab shows Iraqi TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi during a talk show presented by Zaven Kouyoumjian that was taped November 26, 2008, and will be broadcast on Lebanon's Future Television December 22, 2008. REUTERS/Future Television/Handout

TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi is charged with “assaulting a foreign head of state visiting Iraq,” said Abdul Satar Birqadr, spokesman for Iraq’s High Judicial Council.

“The Criminal Court has set a date for trial on December 31 and a three-judge panel will run the hearings,” he said.

“The case is not complicated and I expect it won’t take a great deal of time to reach a ruling,” he said, adding that it was up to the court to determine a sentence.

U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has condemned Zaidi’s actions but he will likely not want to alienate Zaidi’s many supporters, particularly as he and other politicians weigh their parties’ odds in provincial elections next month.

The defendant’s lawyer said his client had been severely beaten following the shoe-throwing incident at a December 14 news conference in Baghdad, but Zaidi’s brother said the reporter would do the same again if he had the chance.

Uday al-Zaidi said his brother had told an investigative judge on Sunday that he had expected to be shot after hurling his first shoe.

But when that did not happen, “‘that gave me time to throw the second (shoe),’” Zaidi quoted his brother as saying. “‘If the clock were turned back, I’d do the same thing over again.’”

The trial of Zaidi, whose actions struck a chord among those who blame Bush for the horrific bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, will likely be closely watched.

In an unusual move that may reflect the sensitivity of the case for Maliki, Iraqi authorities will give the media full access to the trial.

Zaidi, who visited his brother for over an hour at an undisclosed location where he is being held in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, said that “the signs of torture were clear on (Muntazer al-Zaidi’s) face and his body.”

He said the reporter has a tooth missing, his nose was injured and there were bruises on his arms and legs.

Zaidi’s brothers have previously said he suffered a broken arm but in recent days have retracted those allegations.

Uday al-Zaidi said his brother had been tortured into telling the authorities that someone persuaded him to throw his shoes at Bush. Maliki referred on Sunday to an alleged accomplice or instigator as someone known for cutting off heads but did not elaborate.

The prime minister has sought to soothe outcry over the reporter’s fate. He met praised the Iraqi media when he met journalists on Sunday, pledging justice would run its course -- even if that meant Zaidi went free.

Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Jon Boyle